Psychic Mediumship has been a vast money-making venture for many years. Some of the most famous names in the business still pull crowds of thousands, despite almost every single one of them having been shown to be faking at some point in their career. Believers tend not to care about this because accepting Mediumship is a sham would mean rethinking their entire belief system and admitting they were fooled. Nobody wants to do that. Recently, far more than ever before, my Facebook newsfeed and the community page of our village have been flooded with adverts for local psychic mediums. I didn’t know my small South Wales village had so much supernatural talent! We must be breaking records here because it seems everyone has suddenly discovered a gift for communicating with the dead (for money). Which got me thinking: Isn’t it only fair to make sure that people who pay to go to these shows (which are all billed, in their poster small print, as “Entertainment Only” because legally they can’t claim otherwise) have knowledge of the methods learned and performed by clever, enterprising but ultimately advantage-taking individuals? I learned many of the methods employed by Mediums, via a magic hobby and a keen, sceptical interest in psychics and the supernatural. So here’s what I know, for a fact, many Mediums do when they tell you they’re speaking with your dead mum:
Social Media Homework – Technological advances, like social media, have made the job of fraudulent psychic Mediums (ie, all Mediums) very easy. Every time you responds to an advert for a psychic medium show – in Facebook comments, seeking tickets, or by “liking” the Medium’s page/event – the psychic will browse your Facebook profile for holiday photos, birthdays, house numbers, names and dates, news of bereaved loved ones etc. It’s very convincing when the Medium says “I have your mother, Jean here. She’s saying she hopes you had a wonderful time in Tenerife! She’s happy that you’re enjoying yourself and not dwelling on losing her too much.” WOW! How specific! Except, seven months back people were sending messages of condolence for the death of your mother on Facebook, and two months after that you posted an album of photos from your holiday to Tenerife. When you “Liked” that Medium’s event on Facebook you unwittingly gifted access to that information to the Medium and/or their team.
This makes psychic mediumship PISS easy in the age of social media, especially when those who are statistically more inclined to be believers in such phenomenon tend to be older, usually female, often not very tech-savvy. There’s always a disclaimer that reads something like “LIMITED NUMBER OF TICKETS AVAILABLE” and while this is usually to do with the size of the venue, take a look around when you get there and see how many more seats or tables would have fitted. There’s a trade-off between the limited number of tickets made available and the benefits of reading for a smaller group of pre-researched audience members. This is also why tickets are pushed so enthusiastically online: those who buy their tickets without ever seeing a Facebook advert usually do so based on either a previous reading, thus an existing relationship with the Medium, or posters in the venue itself, thus these people tend to be well-known to the Medium/their team/friends due to being regulars at that particular club (it’s always in a social or working men’s club!)
Pre-show Work – There’ll be plenty of chances for the Medium, their team or friends to overhear conversations at the venue before the show. You’ll find that the Medium is always there long before people start arriving, often sitting among the audience in the bar or lounge of the club. They’ll be listening out for things to pick up on since conversation there that night will obviously be about who audience members want to hear from: “My mum died recently and always said she’d reach out to us if she could,” someone will say. “Oh, I remember Jean. Lovely woman. Always had a smile for everyone!” someone else will reply. The Medium will hear this and remember it. On stage, no doubt, Jean will come through, with a reassuring message and a big smile. Just like when she was alive…
Better-paid/more-successful Mediums will have teams of people scattered among the crowd listening out for this kind of thing and reporting back to the Medium before the show (or sometimes during, using all kinds of dishonest means). If there are “prayer cards” or “wish cards” at the venue, for you to write the names of loved ones you wish to hear from on, don’t fill them in. You’ll literally be giving the Medium the information they’ll relay back to you from the stage and, while it might not seem very convincing to you at the time, everyone else in the room will wonder how the hell they knew that. Often, bereaved people will then be either overly-reassured or will feel too silly or embarrassed to say “well, actually, that was rubbish!” Most of the time, people who believe in this kind of thing, and get lucky enough to hear from a deceased loved one on the night, are simply wishfully hoping it actually is true. The alternative – that this kind-looking Medium is lying to you for money – is just far too hurtful to consider.
Off-Beat Repetition, Leading & Fishing – Mediums rely on a ratio of hits to misses that will make them look good. Hits are things they get right. Misses are things they get wrong. “I think I have someone’s Mum here in spirit… A lady called Jean or maybe Joan?” could apply to many people in that audience, indeed anyone with a dead mum called Jean or Joan. The Medium only needs one person to speak up for this to go down as a hit in the eyes of everyone present. The fact that the person’s mum would be called Jean OR Joan, not both, and therefore the information is at best 50% right (and thus 50% wrong) goes unnoticed in the excitement and emotion of the moment. So, “that’s my mum. Jean. She had a heart attack,” says the audience member, near tears. “Yes,” says the Medium, suddenly 100% sure the dead woman is called JEAN, not JOAN, “Hmm, she’s nodding. She’s here to let you know she’s okay… That she’s always thinking of you all.” There’ll be tears, of course. Then the Medium will say something like “She’s showing me a pain she had in her chest? Did she have a problem with her chest?” It’s a bold move, after what the Medium was literally just told by the audience member. “Yes,” repeats Jean’s daughter, “She had a heart attack. That’s how she died!” And the room goes crazy! That’s PROOF! How else could the Medium know?! Well, setting aside the fact that THE AUDIENCE MEMBER LITERALLY JUST TOLD THE MEDIUM THIS INFORMATION, it’s a fair bet that someone who has died may have had a problem with their chest – either their lungs, their heart, even a stomach issue could be seen as a hit, here.
It’s really not rocket science. It’s not a science at all. It’s a clever and learnable skill – I’ve pretty much learned it. So where next? The Medium will say “she’s saying something about a cat… about a cat…” So, if Jean had a cat – hit. If Jean hated next door’s cat – hit. If Jean had a stuffed cat on her dressing table – hit. If Jean’s daughter has just got a kitten – hit. The possibilities are endless, really. And if NONE of that makes sense to Jean’s daughter, the Medium will say “well, she’s definitely talking about this cat, so have a think over it later on…” Bingo: The Medium has info that even Jean’s daughter doesn’t have!! What more proof do you need of the afterlife, right? Tut, tut, tut. Don’t fall for it. It’s leading questioning and it’s basically how horoscopes work (never just read your own horoscope, by the way, read them all – they’re always so, so similar!). Old ladies like cats, very often. Barnum Statements like “she’s talking about a cat” can relate to any number of aspects of millions of people’s lives. It’s a numbers game. If the information misses, then it’ll be forgotten after the show. Only the hits are remembered.
It’s called Confirmation Bias and we see it all the time: “I had a cold. I took some homoeopathic remedy and three days later I was fine, so it must work!” or you may have got better anyway, with or without the homoeopathic remedy (don’t get me started on homoeopathy – that’s another blog for another day!)… Also, have you ever had this happen to you?: You’re sitting in your living room, thinking about a friend you haven’t heard from in a while and RING RING, the phone goes off. You answer it and, would you believe it, it’s the friend you were thinking of!! You must be psychic!! OR, maybe the friend who hasn’t heard from you in a while either thought it was time to get in touch! It’s a coincidence that you were thinking of them. How many times have you thought of that friend and they HAVEN’T phoned at that very moment? Or how many times have you NOT been thinking of someone and they DO phone? Of course, neither of those instances seem strange, so they’re completely disregarded, forgotten, edited out of your mind. Only the “hit” – the friend you thought of ringing you JUST THEN – sticks in your head because it’s odd. Coincidences are odd. But they mean nothing.
Then there’s this one (my favourite): When talking to/about a person’s dead relative, the Medium might ask “She didn’t have a sister in spirit, did she?” If the answer is yes, that’s a hit. Proof of the Medium’s ability. If the answer is no, that too is a hit! “No, she didn’t have a sister in spirit. That’s what I said. But she’s with people she thinks of as sisters now.”… Cheeky, sure. Often overlooked, though, so very effective.
Repeating Information From Private “Cold Readings” – Often, Mediums don’t only do stage shows. They also run a lucrative line in private readings. It’s not unusual for someone to see the same Medium again and again and again. Each time they see this Medium, they give more about themselves away. I know of people who have their FRIENDS give them psychic readings or contact their dead relatives. I know of one person (we’ll call her Jill) whose friend – a Medium – was AT THE FUNERAL of Jill’s mother, and STILL Jill pays the Medium to contact her dead mum, despite the fact that any information that could be seen as proof would be known by someone as close to the family as this particular Medium is to Jill’s. These private readings are often showcased at live stage events. Information that has already been confirmed in a private sitting is repeated for an audience from the stage. “Jean’s coming through for Jill… Jill, where are you? Jill, your mother just wants to say hello and to let you know she’s always there with you. She’s saying to me that you should get on and decorate your bathroom!” to which Jill replied “We are! We’ve bought the paint today!” The Medium knows this. Jill’s been given this reading, in long-form, earlier in the week in which the stuff about decorating a bathroom was teased out, remembered. To the audience in the room, however, this looks like incontrovertible proof that the Medium has been in contact with Jill’s mum! Hit. Hit. Hit.
It all looks amazing. The way many sittings of the private sort (and often on stage too) work is using a skill called Cold Reading. Wikipedia says that “Cold reading is a set of techniques used by mentalists, psychics, fortune-tellers, mediums, illusionists (readers), and other scam artists, to imply that the reader knows much more about the person than the reader actually does. Without prior knowledge, a practised cold-reader can quickly obtain a great deal of information by analyzing the person’s body language, age, clothing or fashion, hairstyle, gender, sexual orientation, religion, race or ethnicity, level of education, the manner of speech, place of origin, etc. Cold readings commonly employ high-probability guesses, quickly picking up on signals as to whether their guesses are in the right direction or not, then emphasizing and reinforcing chance connections and quickly moving on from missed guesses.” So, a woman of sixty-ish in the audience is a good bet for a hit if the Medium says they have someone’s mother in spirit looking to make contact. The chances are that a sixty-year-old’s mother will be dead. From there, the Medium will make judgements based on the above, working suitable snippets of (often very vague) information into the reading – the old lady will have glasses, she’ll have a unique, but not unpleasant, smell about her. An elderly man in spirit will often smell of cigarettes, the Medium will say, a smell the family will associate with him. If that hits, the next step will be mention of “pains or tightness in his chest, or back”. There’s a good chance that our dead old guy was a smoker – who wasn’t in the old days, eh? – and that IF he was a smoker, he suffered from a related illness (even if it was just a cough). These are all seen as hits.
Remember, always, that scattered in between these apparent hits will be many more misses. Joan has been forgotten because Jean was claimed by an audience member. The cat, once relevant to the Medium but not to the family member, has disappeared and will never be mentioned again. Misses will stack up. There’ll be many more misses than hits, I can assure you. But, like the example of the old friend and the psychic telephone call above, the instances that mean nothing are simply forgotten, pushed off the memory shelf to make room for a far shorter series of apparent miracles: proof of the afterlife. All these family members coming down from heaven to say their names begin with a T or an R, or maybe an S, and that their birthday is sometime in November are wonderful to behold (funny that nobody ever comes up for a visit from hell, isn’t it?).
But it’s all a lie. Sometimes a harmless lie, I’ll admit: Often these Mediumship shows are put on for charity or some other local good cause. But there’s a darker side to this: people believe that the Medium is speaking to their dead relative. Imagine there was someone who PROMISED that they’d get through to you if it were at all possible after their death. Imagine you went to Medium after Medium after Medium and none of them had a message from your loved one. What would you think? What could be wrong? And bringing it down to basics, isn’t it just a bit tasteless to lie about speaking to someone’s dead relative? Regardless of the harm that could be caused by such a claim, isn’t it just a bit… yuck… to make that shit up? What kind of a mind does this without feeling shame or guilt? And if I’m completely wrong, if it is all 100% true, why charge for such a wonderful gift?! Wouldn’t you use that to help people and reassure them for free?
And if you CAN prove it – or think you can, and I’m speaking directly to YOU now, Mediums! – why not have a go for the $1 million prize offered by the Randi Foundation to anyone who can prove, under scientific test conditions, that they have genuine psychic powers? Why are you slaving away for a door-split of £12 a ticket at a working men’s club when you could bag yourself a million dollars by simply proving your ability is real? I think I know why not…